Eleven-year-old Becca Butler arrived at the theater early. She was wearing her civilian clothes. Plaid shirt. Jeans.

The band was doing a soundcheck when she walked in. I was behind the piano.

“Hi, Sean!” we could all could hear her say.

She was waving wildly. Namely, because this is a child who doesn’t do anything halfway. Even, for example, waving.

Becca used her white cane to navigate her way onto the stage, which was crowded with microphones and cables and degenerate musicians who, if it weren’t for our wives and our vans, would be—technically—homeless.

Becca is blind. And I am perpetually fascinated by her ability to move through unfamiliar environments using only her cane.

Sometimes, she even uses echo-location to gauge the the room she’s in.

“If she’s in in a new place,” her mother says, “sometimes Becca makes loud popping noises so she can hear the size of the room.”

The show tonight was in a big room. In Columbiana, Alabama, at the SONG Theater. These shows run all summer long, we feature music, humor, good friends, and musical guests from all over the Southeast. Tonight, Becca was my special guest. She was going to sing with the band.

Because, you see, Becca is a singer.

Becca has many other talents, mind you. She is a math-whiz. She has a prodigious memory. She can use her iPhone better than any electronics engineer in the Continental United States. But whatever else she is, she is a singer.

Singers are unique human beings. They were put here to ease sadness. Even if only temporarily.

Becca stepped up to the mic. Her voice is rich. Pure. She has perfect pitch. When she sings, you feel it. Not in your ears. But other places. Like your chest. And behind your eyes. Becca’s singing causes noses to run.

“She’s been singing ever since she started talking,” says her mother, Mina Butler.

Then, her mother showed me a video of Becca when she was a baby. In the video, Becca sits on the couch. Her eyelids won’t open all the way. Somehow, in the video, you can tell this is a child who’s been through a lot.

A whole lot.

In the video the toddler sings “Jesus Loves Me.” And even though Becca is practically a baby, the song hits like a falling Steinway. The words ring true when they come from Becca’s lips.

“…Little ones to him belong,
“They are weak, but he is strong…”

Becca’s story is not an uncommon one. Her birth parents didn’t want her. They simply walked away. They abused drugs, and suddenly they had a child with special needs. So they just left.

Becca lay on her back for the first stretch of her life. The back of her head was flat. She didn’t even know how to walk.

When Mina and Justin Butler sat in the back of the courtroom, the presiding judge said something to the courtroom along the lines of:

“No one is going to want this baby, not in her condition. Who knows what her mental capacity is going to be? Much less her other health problems.”

At the time, Becca had already undergone open-heart surgery, had been diagnosed with Turner’s syndrome, and she was developmentally delayed.

“They called her a drug baby,” says her mother. “Nobody knew what her prognosis would be, the judge didn’t think anyone wanted a drug baby.”

When a court case worker told the judge that Mina and Justin wanted to adopt the “drug baby,” the judge shook his head and said:

“Well, God bless them. I hope they know what they’re in for.”

Becca found a home with the Butlers. A good home. She blossomed faster than spring collards.

Eight months later, Becca and her new parents were back in the courthouse for adoption proceedings. The judge didn’t even recognize Becca.

By then, Becca was no drug baby. She had learned to walk and interact. And, boy howdy, could she sing.

When the caseworker announced to the judge that this was the same “drug baby,” the judge could not believe it. The judge took one look at the child.

“When that judge looked at her,” says Becca’s mom, “Becca surprised us all and held out her little hands and said, ‘Tada!’”

Tonight, Becca made her way onto the stage. She was wearing a pink gown. There were ribbons and flowers in her hair. A classic little girl.

She sang “Amazing Grace.” She received four standing ovations. Then she spoke to the audience. There were sniffles throughout the theater.

“This world is full of struggles,” an 11-year-old told her rapt audience. “But one day I’ll be in heaven, where there will be none. One day I will see again, and I’ll be looking at the face of Jesus.”


Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.

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